written by B - october 28- 2003
I have talked about
wrestling in some capacity for every day I've been alive, save
for eight and a half months. My first word at seven months old
was "chocolate." My second word was
"Pac-man." And at about eight and a half months old I
learned the word "cage," and it's been all downhill
Wrestling is made by hardworking business associates, created on a daily basis by harder-working athletes, and enjoyed by the refuse of society. The first and easiest sign that you're talking to the wrong person about wrestling is their need to vehemently defend it. The old adage of "wrestling is fake" died with the dinosaurs; at least, with my dinosaurs. The only people meant to believe that wrestling is "real" in the life-or-death competition sense are the same ones who are meant to believe that Santa Claus is real: little kids. From the word "cage" I began my torrid love affair with professional wrestling, specifically the National Wrestling Alliance and Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling.
I don't know what the exact moment needed to be for me to abre my ojos and see it as a business. I don't think there was a moment. But even as a kid, even as one of the little ones who is supposed to go to sleep on the 24th and wait for Dusty Rhodes to bring home the championship, I despised the people who didn't care. Let me rephrase; I despised the people who didn't care about it in the right way. Every few months an event would come to the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, North Carolina, about an hour drive south of Danville, Virginia, where I was born. The car trips don't exist in my mind anymore. I remember making He-man playsets drip booger goop on Mer-man, and then I remember Bobby Eaton and Dennis Condrey beating Ricky Morton like he was a hard-on and Robert Gibson was their greatest fantasy. There is no in-between. There isn't an in-between in my life, really, just moments when I'm loving wrestling and moments when I'm not.
I loved Morton and Gibson, the Rock n' Roll Express (pronounced "Wock-e-Woll E-pwess" until I was two), because they were small, quick, and identifiable. I booed for Nikita Koloff, chain-wielding Russian. I watched in awe as referee Tommy Young somehow could never see Ric Flair's feet dangling on the middle rope despite lying under them as he counted the three on Magnum T.A. They were all human, though, and I knew this. I knew they were people outside of this job, and even when I thought they weren't stomping when they punched I knew that they were just like me in a way, only with fewer clothes and more money to buy action figures. People. Human beings. Normal. And then there were the Road Warriors.
"Iron Man" by Black Sabbath was my first favorite song as a kid, because it meant that the Road Warriors were about five seconds away from bum-rushing the ring and beating the shit out of people. They looked like giants in black pants. They had crazy haircuts, paint on their face, and football shoulderpads covered in spikes: actual metal spikes. Actual metal spikes that could turn my head into an h'ourderve. Animal (the shorter, wider Road Warrior) would drive his spike down my gullet and Hawk (my favorite Road Warrior) would serve me on a platter and top me with spray cheese. And I would deserve this, because the Road Warriors were walking demons. Where the Rock n' Roll Express had to weather violent beatings to get a victory the Road Warriors gave beatings. When Dusty Rhodes pumped his fist and did a jig, Animal would lift a guy onto his shoulders and Hawk would leap from the top rope with a clothesline, and lifted guy would be dead. Dead and flipped. Flipped for real, with one of his legs quivering. "The Doomsday Device" they called it. I never wanted to see doomsday. I thought about covering my eyes, but I was too busy standing on my chair, hooting and wooing at the top of my lungs with all of the idiots who didn't appreciate what I appreciated. I was too busy loving it to notice.
Halloween was quickly approaching, as it is now, and at six years old I knew what I wanted to be: Hawk. My best friends from school were all dressing up as monsters. I couldn't think of a scarier one. I stuffed my Road Warriors T-shirt with balled up clothes to make muscles and painted magic marker mohawks on a bald cap. My Mom drew black spikes over my right eye and a red triangle under my left. As ghost and goblins rushed by me on Glendale Avenue I strutted confidently with the knowledge that I could shoulderblock them all into oblivion. A few years later Hawk and Animal would permanently etch themselves into my Halloween consciousness by throwing pumpkins from a scaffold onto a city street as visual aids to explain what they were going to do to the Midnight Express. Anyone reading this should know that my first inclination after seeing that was to climb up to the roof of my house and throw pumpkins off onto the sidewalk. Anybody who knows me should know that it's still the first image that pops into my mind whenever I see a pumpkin.
I wore the same Halloween costume to an NWA show a few weeks later. I took an entire afternoon to make a poster board sign to take with me. This was long before fans looked like outcasts at a Raw or Smackdown without a trite sign reading "THE ROCK" or something equally unoriginal, like "Eddie Guerrero Mows My Lawn." The Road Warriors were feuding with Ivan and Nikita Koloff at the time, so my sign featured a portrait of Hawk and Animal with the phrase "End of the Road, Russians" under it. I was hyper-advanced for a six year old but this memory is living proof that no matter how many books I read I was still gay and lame in exactly the ways that a six year old should be.
After the Road Warriors gave the Doomsday Device to Nikita I got my dad to run me down to the front row. There he hoisted me onto his shoulders and I extended the sign high above my head. After a few moments of posing Hawk turned and made eye-contact with me. It must've been like looking into a bizarro world memory book. I was his six year old shadow. He glanced up at my sign, back down at me, and pointed. He pointed at me. And then he gave me a thumbs up. And then I died. I never spoke to him or he to me, but it made my heart explode. It's a feeling I've only been able to duplicate once or twice since, but these moments are far away and fewer between. Moments that take my colloquialisms and Doomsday Device them to Hell.
I can't remember what made me realize that wrestling was predetermined, but I can remember what made me a "smart:" The Great Muta. I was eight when I saw him backflip from the top rope. It was like a nuclear bomb going off behind my eyeballs. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined that someone could backflip from the top and land stomach first on somebody. I didn't think anybody was crazy enough to do it. You could kill yourself! You could backflip and land on the top of your head, which would paralyze you and the only thing you'd be wrestling is incontinence. But this Japanese man of moderate build draped in ninja clothes opened my eyes and imagination more than any drug could hope to. The Great Muta ended my two year streak of dressing up as Hawk for Halloween. I painted my face completely red and spit water, the closest thing I could come up with for Muta's deadly green mist attack, at anybody who wouldn't give me candy. But most people gave me candy, so I walked around with a mouth full of stale water. Better safe than sorry, I guess.
The Great Muta opened my eyes for the Steiner Brothers, for Jushin Thunder Liger, for Flyin' Brian Pillman and Tiger Mask. Clotheslines fell from my radar in favor of spinning heel kicks; shoulderblocks disappeared and were replaced by Tiger Drivers and Frankensteiners. The bar was raised until it was a dot in my childhood sky and I wanted nothing more than to reach it, and to see who would push it higher, until it was a bar floating in space. The Road Warriors became less and less important. Then one day I saw the Steiner Brothers pin them. It was the first time in my entire life I'd seen anyone cleanly defeat the Road Warriors. The torch was passed, and Hawk and Animal disappeared from my life.
The Road Warriors didn't disappear; they just went to the federation I didn't take seriously. The WWF turned up the volume on the things I didn't like in wrestling: the stereotyping, the cartoon characters, the pet sidekicks and the silly costumes. The Great Muta wore red pants. Koko B. Ware wore neon three-color spandex with checkerboard print and carried a parrot around. Koko danced to his own music and flapped his arms like a bird. Muta dropped power elbows on people. Jimmy Snuka could do a flying splash from the top rope! Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Who gives a shit? Historically significant or no, a man jumping from the top of a cage only a few feet higher than the top rope is infinitely less impressive to me than Tiger Mask doing a 360 turn five times during a drop toehold. In the WWF, the Dynamite Kid was one of the British Bulldogs. In Japan, the Dynamite Kid would spike his head into peoples faces while they were passed out on the cement outside the ring. It was a three-ring circus: something for everyone! If you don't like the trapeze artists you'll love the elephants! The WWF to me was a circus that charges you five dollars for parking and twenty dollars for admission to see a show full of pretend animals. I loved neither the trapeze artists nor the elephants. I loved workrate. And I became a jaded smark.
The Road Warriors were renamed the "Legion of Doom," an already existing nickname. They replaced the black pants with black and red pants covered in triangles and designs. They replaced the black shoulderpads with red shoulderpads. They replaced the metal spikes with foam spikes. Foam spikes. If I lived my life in constant fear of Nerf I would've shit my pants. Instead, I scoffed and changed the channel. The LOD spouted "ooooh what a rush!" as they seemed to have a harder and harder time beating opponents. They struggled to defeat guys that wouldn't have lasted a minute in 85, and guys who wouldn't have even shown up to fight in 83. They became another bear on a tricycle for Vince McMahon. They even had a puppet who gave them motivational speeches. Do do do do do do do do.
The moment of truth for the Legion of Doom came when Hawk was given the role of "old drunkard" to play. He staggered through the crowd, swatting people, stumbling, making a fool of himself. Animal crossed his arms and snickered in chagrin, as newbie Road Warrior in training Darren "Puke" Drozdov hatched evil-or-maybe-not-evil schemes. The end came as Hawk climbed to the top of the giant video screen on the Monday Night Raw set and pretended to threaten suicide. Droz climbed up to save him, but Hawk was too drunk and fell to his doom. His fake doom. My eyes rolled so hard that the back of my head exploded and embedded jagged skull pieces into my living room wall. The Legion of Doom disappeared, basically, for the long haul.
Years went by and gimmicks changed like seasons; Oz became Vinnie Vegas and bloomed in Diesel. Shawn Michaels smiled, lost it, and then found it again. The NWA became WCW, Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair wrestled each other, the Rock n' Roll Express grew beer bellies and disbanded into old age. I discovered girls, art, movies, and writing. Here is the part where I should pull a Cinema Paradiso and go on about how I grew up and left behind the childish meandering of my past. Here is where I'd be a giant liar. Last year for Halloween I dressed up as cruiserweight Shane "The Hurricane" Helms. This year I'm wearing my La Parka mask to a Goth club for Halloween. For those not in the know, La Parka is a fat Mexican guy dressed as a skeleton who dances and plays air guitar with a steel chair. This compliments Switchblade Symphony perfectly.
I came to love Chris Benoit, a Canadian molding himself after the Dynamite Kid, who takes specific pains to work as hard as he can to improve realism and athleticism in pro wrestling, and has subsequently come to be seen as God for his efforts. I came to love Kurt Angle, a legit Olympic gold medalist and all-around alpha male of our species. As the WCW dissolved into the WWF which dissolved into the WWE I began to love Japan. I began to love Curry Man and CIMA, Toshiaki Kawada and Leonardo Spanky. I discovered the joys of the independent circuit and let my mind go with Low Ki, American Dragon, and Paul London. The Doomsday Device was made to look like a girlish slap on the hand by The Spanish Fly, a double team top rope move that involves three people flipping together. Wrestling became more and more a business, but a business full of people in love with it, trying to make it as good as they can. And still standing was Keiji Mutoh, The Great Muta. In his older age he can't do as many amazing things as he used to, so he's taken to kicking people in the knees until they can't stand and then kneeing them as hard as he can in the face. God I love that guy. God loves that guy. God might BE that guy.
The Road Warriors became comedy for online discussion. Hawk's hokey suicide is one of the most laughed about events in recent wrestling history, along with The Shockmaster falling through a stunt wall and losing his mask and evil doll Chucky threatening wrestlers on Monday Nitro. "Hey, wouldn't it have been awesome if they'd pretended Hawk was actually dead when he fell off the Titantron, and then never had the LOD ever show up again?" "Haha, that would rule." "Hawk could come back to life as a zombie and push Droz around in his wheelchair." Comedy with plus signs after it. Laughs out loud. Rolling on the Laughing Floor My Ass Off. ROLFMAO. Memories of strength replaced by memories of foolishness. Do do do do.
A few months ago, Rob Van Dam and Kane, the at-the-time current World Tag Team Champions, were challenged by their general manager with a team of former champions from the past. "Oooooh What a rush!" blared over the speakers in the arena, and Hawk and Animal made their way out to the main circus ring one more time. They looked bad. They had huge stomachs and flabby underarms. Their punches and shoulderblocks weren't as tough as they were twenty years previously. But they were trying, and the crowd loved them for it. RVD and Kane dispatched them in a few minutes, and just as quickly as they arrived, the Road Warriors were gone.
They were a gimmick left behind by the progression of time. The Doomsday Device rests under a pile of improvements. Their face paint looked dumb. Foam shoulderpads? Oooh, what a rush, haha, LOL, etc. They were characters left behind. They were people left behind. Who are Hawk and Animal if they aren't the Road Warriors? Who are they if they aren't the Legion of Doom? They're old men. Not too old. Just older. Not young enough. Not in good enough shape. Their bodies won't let them be that way anymore. The drugs won't let them be that way anymore. They reach out to grab the world and it slips through their fingers.
And then, a week ago, Road Warrior Hawk passed away in his sleep.
When September 11th happened I wrote that the strangest part of it all was that the Twin Towers weren't there anymore. The people inside died, but the buildings, these pieces of the skyline, they just weren't there anymore, and they would never be there again.
A few years ago Owen Hart fell from a catwalk and died at a wrestling show. Ravishing Rick Rude's heart gave out because of constant drug abuse. Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig, too. They all die of drug overdoses, it seems. Brian Pillman took too many pills to kill the pain and killed everything else. I never knew these people. I mean, I never knew them as people. I never knew them at all, but I am full of holes without them. Even the ones I don't really care about. Louie Spicolli was a fat guy who wasn't that great at anything, but he died from drugs, and now the weirdest thing is that he just isn't there anymore. Like a character of fiction erased from a book. If you spill ink on the page do the characters go away?
Owen and Hennig and the rest are all still here because they were never real. They were books. Works of fiction. Characters. As time goes on it will get harder and harder to find these books. I didn't want to look at them until I couldn't find them. I am torn between not wanting the memories to fade away, and wanting to know why I am so hurt knowing that my life goes on without them.
Rednecks watch professional wrestling and buy T-shirts with the word "ass" on them somewhere, and raise their beers up and scream "wooooo." They bodyslam each other in their living rooms. Their children jump off of roofs to be like their heroes. Sometimes they look stupid, and sometimes they die. They die just like their heroes. Like these heroes.
A character that I dressed up as for Halloween when I was six years old is dead. A character who pointed to me and gave me the thrill of my life is dead. The character died when people who watch wrestling lost interest in him, and what he could do for them. Hawk has been gone for a long time, but the strangest part of it is that the man just isn't there anymore. What made Hawk move, what made Hawk jump from the top rope and flip people with a clothesline, whatever it was it just isn't there anymore. I don't know where it went, I never knew the man, but I can't find his memories and I wish he was here.
I have such a genuine love for what these people do that I can't imagine myself without them. I think of them as mine, sometimes, characters I imagine who flip from things and cut themselves to simulate forced bleeding. Guys in spandex with words written on their butts. It's so dumb and fake, why would anybody like it? Why would anybody but me like it? I don't always know what to say when people question my love; I don't really know why I love it. I know why I love things, and I know why I love moments, but I don't know why I love IT. It's just there, and always has been. But pieces of it keep going away.
I'm shaken by the realization that one day The Great Muta will die. Chris Benoit will die. Kurt Angle will die. They will die like everybody does. They'll die in their sleep, or from drugs, or from car crashes or whatever, and I will be without them. They will exist only as characters I may or may not've just made up one day to make myself happy. Benoit will be the image of a man squeezing the life from another in the Crippler Crossface. I will see Kurt Angle with his arms outstretched, spinning in his velour tracksuit as people chant "You Suck" in unison to him, for him. I will see The Great Muta backflipping from the top rope, and every year, every day it will fade more, and blur more, and eventually he will be colors swirled against black, and that will be all I have left of him.
I don't know why I love them. I don't know how to tell them I love them. It's not my place.
Now all I can do is find a wrestling forum and type out, "Hey, I thought Hawk died when he fell off the Titantron!11" with tears running down my cheeks. I hope they buried him in his metal spike shoulderpads.
God dammit I hope they did.
progressive boink archives